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tv   Charlie Rose  WHUT  December 28, 2009 11:00pm-12:00am EST

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>> charlie: welcome to the broadcast. tonight, orhan pamuk, nobel laureate, turkish writer talking about his new novel. >> i write about humanity, but i came across humanity in a stumble, so that's what i know about humanity, and indirectly, i, of course, write about a stumble but then, human character is more important than the city. that i also think about. i am a novelist as much as dostieva ski wrote about st. petersburg. dostoyevski wrote about st.
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petersburg. >> we have dr. salam fayad prime minister of the palestinian authority. the two best leaders we can imagine having there and we haven't been able to get the peace process moving so one of the things i push for, sort of a benjamin franklin thought is that if you build up the economy on the west bank and you build up the civil city and the institutions and you just create a de facto state with a good economy. >> charlie: orhan pamuk, walter isaacson. coming up. >> charlie: funding for "charlie rose" has been provided by the following. ( screams ) you've had a hand in giving college scholarships... and support to thousands of our nation's... most promising students. ♪ ( coca-cola 5-note mnemonic )
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. ♪ >> charlie: orhan approximate pamuk is here. he is turkey's best selling writer. he won the nobel prize for literature in 2006. his novels have been translated into more than 50 languages. his new book is called "the museum of innocence." it is set in his native city of istanbul which he's written about time and time again. i am pleased to have orn pamuk back at this table. welcome. >> goodnight. >> charlie: that's a wonderful
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thing to say about that nobel prize. >> i was very happy about it, and then they were really nice to me at stockholm, too, that i felt like this whole nobel swedish committee felt like good uncles patting me and saying sweet things for my work. >> charlie: istanbul is not only the place you came from, but it is a character in your life. >> my life is spent in istanbul. i am so -- i am, of course, obviously a writer of istanbul, but then i'm not deliberately so since i have been asked so many times. istanbul is not in my agenda. i write about humanity, but i came across humanity in a stumble. so that's what i know about humanity, and indirectly, i, of course, write about istanbul but then human character is more important than the city. that i also think about. that i'm a novelist as much as
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dostoyevsky wrote about st. petersburg, joyce busy with dublin, i am busy with istanbul but one in the end is busy with human life. human life makes cities -- >> charlie: are the stories the same even though the venue is different about human life? >> they change. in fact, museum of innocence may be a good example. this is another love story. >> charlie: yes, indeed. >> len: but it's different. gabriel garcia marquez wrote love. i write always that human heart is the same everywhere so that's why we writers, when we write, i know that i will be, if i write it well,f course, addressing a reader in korea, or in vietnam
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where i have readers but there is the universal, eternal side of the human heart but then there is the given history, culture, weight of history, reparations, liberty, and they are different -- cultures are different. this is a love story, "museum of innocence" but it is love story in a culture where man and woman do not come together so easily, that negotiation and -- of love is done through more different language -- let's compare with say in america where there are parties, men and woman come together and it is legitimate and then people also are happy to see couples are going to see movies before marriage, whatever. where this is a country, a culture in 1970's, sex outside of marriage is a taboo, is a very troubled thing.
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sex before marriage and also in related to that virginity is taboo. so this is love in that society, and i try to point out that in such a climate, although human heart is the same every place, refinement or communication through -- is communication between lovers or negotiation of the love, as we all do actually, is done through silence, raising of eyebrows, a whole set of gestures and things where the culture also approves and it's a refined culture, but on the other hand, there is a taboo. there is a lack of communication of the lovers. there is a frustration of not making an angry -- frustration of not making love, and to that culture, this is 1970, the news of 1960's sex revolution in west
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or that sexual freedom or whatever is reaching so that is -- we follow that clash in the story. >> charlie: tell me about the three characters in "museum of innocence." >> kamal is an upper-class rich boy, inheritor of rich business family, lis in the neighborhood i spent all my life in, and i wrote about that. he comes from a richer family than my family, my family is incomparable but he is not a very intellectual person. he is about to get married to a very suitable girl. >> charlie: he may not be an intellectual person but he reads orhan pamuk. >> he meets orhan pamuk. then he is going to live the life that is expected of him.
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he finds a suitable girl. in fact, it looks at the beginning of my novel, it reads like a pink barbara cotton novel. >> charlie: we know the story, we know everything. >> i tell my friends, "don't pay attention to first 50 pages. then it will be a different novel." then he, surprisingly, makes love with and falls in love with his twice-removed cousin, a distant relative of sorts -- for fusun, who comes from the poor branch of the family. >> charlie: she's 18 and he's 30. >> she's 18 and he's 30, and this is not too much at that time in turkey. you would have said that's normal. that's not the point. the point is class difference and sex or virgini or sex before marriage. he is an honorable man. this was a culture of 1970's but still the culture, we may talk
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about that that feels obliged. he is responsible for the fate of this girl because she lost her virginity, or more so, she also feels obliged. now you have t marry. these are issues of highly repressive society, highly repressed sexually, especially, the woman, sohe novel also tries -- i tried to explore -- the novel, i don't know what it does -- i tried to explore the issue of pretensions of occidentalization of upper classes and the weight of history, culture, whatever we believe in, and these are daing issues. this story is -- the drama is about that. another drama, of course, is that kemal, my character, who is
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in some aspects i feel affinity to -- in fact is headily in love but yes, this novel, besides being a sort of a picture of turkish society between 1974 to end of the last century is a picture of a man who is infatuated by love. at one point in the story, my character realizes that love -- his love pains of not seeing her enough, and i think this is the gravest of all love pains -- you know, there are many signs to love pains. if he has object, something, a relic, a sign, a photo or even a lighter or a salt shaker that reminds him of their best times,
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then his love pain decreases, so he begins to collect objects that remind him of their best times, and this takes some eight years and in the end he has a collection. he converts this to exhibit the collection in a museum and the book we're reading is sort of an annotated catalog of that museum, but i don't want this to scare the readers. you can read this novel as a traditional novel too. but the story is told through objects which remind in a proustian fashion the past. it's the idea of that proust. we take something, our -- we taste something, our tentacles are open, our doors of perception a open and then the whole past comes back. let us imagine, my novel
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suggests, that a whole museum of objects that give us the past. if you read the novel, then you would want to identify the objects which i hope to exhibit in the museum too. >> charlie: do you have a museum of innocence? >> i am doing a museum of innocence architectally, but it doesn't legitimize the book. there may be readers of the book in korea, in america or in turkey who do not know that there is -- there will be such a museum. you can enjoy the novel as such. i am doing this, i hope to finish it in one or two years, at the end of the book there is a ticket and you can visit the book but i don't want the museum to overshadow the novel. >> charlie: how do you divide
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your time between new york and istanbul? >> every fall semester i teach at columbia university, humaniti, that means four months in new york. i also spend five or six months in istanbul. >> charlie: that's nine. >> then three months, for example, i was in university at venice, so i go to another university or i go to the place where i write. >> charlie: what do you teach? >> i teach, in fact, about the subjects that i want to write books on. that i wanted to be a painter in my life, at columbia university, for the last two years, i was teaching a course with my -- called pictures and birds about history of -- sort of a story of history of relationship between painting and literature. >> charlie: what a great course. a great course. >> thank you. that we survey all the major texts, then some literature,
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then they were called sister arts. >> charlie: yeah. >> especially, poetry and painting. because they -- give the same, similar stiments. >> charlie: has art -- has painting more influenced literature or literature more influenced painting? >> i think they are intertwined. painting taught literature to describe. if you know how to see things, you know how to pick up details and make an integrated part of the story. let's remember that art of the novel as we know it today is developed not earlier than mid 19th century although "don quixote" was written at the end of the 16th centur noflsz developed by stendhal, balzac,
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fuleave aside dickens were heavily interested about painting, wrote books, were friendly with painters and impressionism was about to be developed some 30, 20 years later and they have learned and so many scholars argue that to describe things, to see things, not only that, to see things as emblems of human trauma, human statues, class gender, also to see things as defining a person's taste and refinement. this is flaubert -- flaubert was also heavily interested in painting. painting prepared grounds for french -- at least for french realistic novel, and from there on it was global novel.
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novel today was developed by french and british in mid 19th century and there was a lot of painting influence and the writers who did that heavily influenced by painters. >> charlie: is one novel recognized as the first? >> stendhal, balzac the first. for me, the first novel is "anna karenina." >> charlie: why "anna karenina"? >> it is the greatest novel. why do you want to read it again? you just want to read it again. just this fall, i gave norton lectures at harvard university and these lectures you choose a subject and i choose the art of the novel, and more than half of my examples are based on "anna karenina." why? it gives you the feeling that, yes, life is like that. when i was writing this book, of
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course, i am sort of a hemingway kind of competitiveness i had was with "anna karenina" -- that i think that every novel in the end should address this basic idea, feeling, sentiment. "what is life like?" literary novels should address that. when we finish a novel, put it by the side, we say, "is life like that?" i think life is like that or i did not notice life is like that." i think novels should address our basic sense of what are the values. is it friendship? is it history? is it culture? is it community? is it ethical commitment to an idea? or is it just happiness? what is happiness? i think old-fashioned novels did that. i think we should continue to do that. this novel aspires to do those things. >> charlie: do you believe that novels will tell you more about a culture than history will tell
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you about a culture? >> i do. i believe novels teach us details of a culture. some novels based on more fantasy and imagination. you cannot learn more about -- we cannot have realistic information about a culture. but some novels, say flaubert gives in "madamme bovary," tells so much about the french society of mid 19th century, novels give us the period, but some novels do not choose to, say science fiction novels, most historical novels do not teach us about history, but give us something about the period they are -- about the period they are written. i think novels in the end are based on human experience. they convey their experience and evaluation of that experience should be the novel.
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novels also are democratic forms in the sense that you don't have to be an intellectual to join -- >> charlie: because it's a story. >> because it's a story -- no, along with being a story that they are based on little daily-life observations. what do we see in a novel? someone is drinking tea. looking at my watch. another guy is opening a light. and we see something from the window. >> charlie: and a novelist has a gift that others don't -- to see those things and understand the context and significance of what is daily and ordinary? >> len: a novelist should have -- yes, in that line, two talents. to see those things in such a way that when he or she writes about them, you say, "yes, that's how coffee feels, that's how when you see the fresh morning breeze, that's how it feels." the second thing pulls together all these little humane things
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with life, light, verb, sounds, colors in such a big organization that when you finish that organization, also embedded in a story you have a sense of life. you say, "well, that's my understanding of life too." proust -- so many novelists, in fact, compared novels to cathedrals. that from this little observation you make a cathedral that suggests something deeper. that is the center of the novel. the meaning of the novel. what the novel implies. joyful, attractive thing about writing novels is that you don't have to be a professor, scholar, anything. you just pay attention to little details of human life, and then compose these details in such a way with identifying with the heroes that you give such a deep understanding of life that can compete with philosophy or religion.
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>> charlie: what skills do you have now that you didn't have 10 years ago other than you have more experiences of living? >> good. when i was writing my first novels, when i was 23 i was to be a painter and i stopped painting and i said to my family -- upper middle class family in istanbul, i said "i'm going to be a novelist." they said "what? who is going to read your novels? you don't know anything about life." coming to your question, they were implying, my family and my friends, that novels are about human experience. when i finished this novel, i also said -- after 35 years, at that time, i said, "well, no, novels are about literature. about kafka, beckett. you have to be experimental. kafka didn't live anything. he was just working in insurance office. novels should not be full of life. now 35 years later, i think that now i agree that perhaps because
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i have life experience that novels should be full of a sense of life, but in oer to be able to say it you have to be over 55 like me. >> charlie: you write in what language? >> i write in, of course, turkish. >> charlie: you handwrite it? >> i handwrite in turkish. >> charlie: you don't write from a computer? >> no. when the computers and all that started, it was too late for me. and also, i write slowly and it's ok. i am happy, i don't want to see a computer in front of me all day. >> charlie: why does it take eight years? >> writing was about five years. i'm a slow writer. >> charlie: writing was five years? >> yes. >> charlie: the book has 500-plus pages. >> i'm a slow writer. i'm happy about it. >> charlie: happy about it? >> yeah. >> charlie: meaning you prefer it that way? >> yes. this is my eighth novel. i sometimes ask myself, "the greatest novelists, dostoyevsky"
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how many novels? five, not 10, 15, 20, i don't want to go more than that, also i write a lot and i like taking my time. >> charlie: do you want to get to the end and then go back? or do you -- >> yes, i sometimes write the ending, sometimes write the middle chapters. i chapter a novel then jump around. when i'm stuck -- i don't have writer's block. when i'm stuck in a chapter, i skip to another chapter and continue that way. >> charlie: what causes writer's block? >> i think an anxiety. too much anxiety about something. another thing that not knowing what will happen in the next chapter or in the story. also lack of self confidence, perhaps. >> charlie: have you felt it seriously? >> sometimes, but not -- >> charlie: you go to the next chapter? >> yes. i have learned ways too bypass it. for me, writer's block is about
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not knowing what to do in the next chapter, but if there is a chapter that you want to write a lot, just skip to it and continue. then you will return back. >> charlie: some people are very good at dialogue, some people are od at creating characters, some people are good at narrative. are you good at all of them? how would you write them in terms of your own core competence? >> i like writing good dialogue, but writing too much sometimes seems to me betraying. that novels should not be too -- based on too much dialogue. that is a play. i like seeing the human sentiment, emotions with objects that surround that person. i want to give -- with one sentence, with one brush -- movement of a brush both the emotion and the object envelope in one sentence. that's my inspiration. i argue that the objects that surround us in a novel should
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also represent our emotions. that when we are sad we look out of the window, we should see a bit of a melancholic cloudy sky. there should be a correspondence with the objects that surround the character and the drama and the good writer sees the object that fits the emotion of the character. >> charlie: you still paint? >> i quit painting for 35 years and i began painting in the last two years again. >> charlie: tell me what happened. >> i'm just there. and i -- i was raised to be a painter between the ages of seven and 22. >> charlie: raised by your parents? >> i would say i just developed it by my own but i come from a family of civil engineers. my grandfather was a civil engineer. my father and uncles were. and then they also said you can be a painter but why don't you go to school of architecture where your grandfather and uncles went to study." >> charlie: you went to
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architectural school. >> then dropped -- with the intention of being a painter and architect. but then suddenly i stopped all of this, dropped out of architectal school and stopped painting and began -- architectural school and stopped painting and began writing novels. how i felt when we painted i wrote "my name is red" to remember all the joys of painting. then i continued the last two years, again, i picked up brush and pen -- >> charlie: why did you pick it up after 35 years? >> i don't know. in fact, i was in front of a stationary. i didn't have -- so i just walked in and bought all the colors. all in my childhood, my aunts loved me and used to bring me colors and paintings. i felt like a child. of course, i am an amateur, but it is a good way of thinking about these issues of
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relationship between painting and literature, painting and seeing, narrating a story, true objects -- i am, i think, a visual writer. that is to say, tolstoy and nabokov enjoy the true pictures while dostoevsky, it is intense but we don't remember what was in that room where dmitri and aliosa spoke, when you enter a tolstoy room, you remember the objects. you remember the color of the room, or some sensation or something from the room. i think i am that kind of -- >> charlie: whether it was dark or light. >> yes. some sense of a breeze comes in. those visual authors see the world in a more lighter -- when he was teaching russian literature at cornell, i think, nabokov used to give this
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example. he would give this is chekhov, this is dostoevsky, he would open the blinds and say, "this is tolstoy." >> charlie:ow much of this novel is biographical? >> question i have been asked in turkey. it is about a man's infatuation with his love pains and, of course, all the woman readers i have met in turkey, ask, and, of course, i taught this -- i have been asked this so many times, all authors, of course, all their lives ha been asked are you your character? >> charlie: the answer is always the same. "a part of me is in every character that i ever created." >> but since this is asked so much i thought about this and in fact i argued that the nature of the novel -- this art is such that even if i say it's not me,
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it's a fictional character, deeply in my heart, i want the reader to believe that it's me, because writing novels is seducing the reader in such a way that he or she, the reader, is constantly asking himself, herself, "did he live this detail? is this autobiographical? or is he or she the writer so creative that he invented it? >> charlie: the reader would have that dialogue with themselves. >> yes. >> charlie: "did they live this or is this a genius?" >> if we read novels, we all do that. is this a political novel, a business novel, anything -- a slice of life is introduced and we ask ourselves, "is this fantasy? or is reality like this?" that's why we buy and read. we don't want a journalistic
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thing. we want a creative writer's take on reality. that's why we read novels and we also trust the writer because he chooses the best parts of reality to represent the cathedral, imply what it's all about so we always ask and then there is no answer to hat, even if içó say "nabokov said my boo are fantasies, they are fairy tails," there is so mucheality in them, and then we cannot make a distinction, even the writer says, "no, i am not kemal, i never fell in love like that, it's embarrassing," which is true, but i don't want the reader to acknowledge this truth -- >> charlie: it's true that you never fell in love like this. >> i fell in love but not as much as this. >> charlie: are you jealous of him becae you never fell in love that much? >> no. >> charlie: wouldn't it be good to fall in love that much? even though it had a -- negative consequences for him or directed
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-- >> i identify with my character because love made him open to pay attention to his beloved. >> charlie: exactly. >> i would -- i would like to be like him, paying so much attention to human -- other human beings. deeply, in this novel -- deep below is my identification with the character in two ways. one is his infatuation with his beloved, the girl, is so deep that he pays attention to her everything. i think novels are paying attention to human beings first. their gestures. their silence. the way she smokes a cigarette. the way she turns her cigarette. the way she gets angry. the way she says this or that. that is very humane. and that is what is writing novels about. not only other human beings, also nature, since this i identify with my character. the other thing is more
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political, perhaps, is this. that my character, kemal, who comes from upper middle -- from the westernized neighbors of istanbul. >> charlie: very secular. >> very secular. is more or less -- although much, much richer guy, is given a happy life in a poor country of turkey in 1970's but this or that happens in his life, and he is out of that community life. that i was giving also -- i could have been an architect or whatever, and then would have led a communnitarrian middle class bourgeois life in istanbul. this and that happened. i did not fall in love with fusun, i fell in love with writing novels. >> charlie: if you have a passion for something -- to
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write, to paint, to perform, whatever -- does that restrict, because it's self-directed, your capacity to have the kind of feelings that kemal has for -- >> yes. i agree. very good question. >> charlie: you can't love as well as someone who doesn't have the passion for work that you have. >> that in the end, i would say this love is too much. i'm not writing for six months. let me overcome it. i would do that. i am that kind of person. >> charlie: you know that for a fact? >> yes, i can say that. >> charlie: because you are -- the driving force in your life is -- >> yes. >> charlie: and you will let nothing get in the way of it. >> things get in the way, but after a while i compose myself. in that sense, i'm not kemal. >> charlie: slap yourself? wake up? >> yes. i do that. >> charl: is part of that because you think that you -- for whatever combination of
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reasons, has a gift? it's destined and born? you won a nobel prize. >> i don't think in that lines. in the end, maybe people will think that i'm destined and born to write many books, but in the end -- >> charlie: that is enough. >> but more important, is that i am more happier when i'm doing this, when i'm writing a novel. yes, love makes us happy, this and that. in the end, it is more a feeling of security and solidarty and enjoyment of sex for me while -- >> charlie: go ahead. >> i said it, that in the end love is a feeling of security, enjoyment of life and sex, more or less, while this is -- novels is a deeper thing, almost a religion for me, that -- when i reach inside a novel and writing and happy with it, it is the greatest happiness for me and i
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think i -- there are so many people out there who sense it. that's why they read your novels. >> charlie: because they know you have that kind of -- >> yeah, you have that -- you have that kind of -- >> charlie: drive? >> motivation. >> charlie: motivation and drive. >> in the end, you make a cathedral and it suggests such -- and it's made of such little things such as answering a phone and opening a door and saying something silly, then with these details you make such a big construction, which suggests things -- secular things that can only -- religion ca imply. >> charlie: the ultimate aphrodisiac for you. >> yes. >> charlie: henry kissinger once said famously "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." the ultimate aphrodisiac for you is here? >> i like that. once you have it, you also want to be happy in life. >> charlie: and also, if in fact you are doing something along levels of excellence and there
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is a response --ñi sw your case buying this book -- then it çó empowers you as a -- i think as a human being. it makes you more real. more open. more -- >> also more responsible. that i feel obliged that i write my books even more carefully, i have so many readers i have to be careful, i should not steal their time, i cannot be messy on this or that, i have to be very careful revising and revising and revising, that is how i strongly feel. i don't want to be embarrassed. >> charlie: and the idea that you have disappointed your readers would be a terrible pain. >> yes. not -- in fact, it would be more painful by being disappointed by a critic than i knowñi that tho pages are bad or i'm not hpy about it. i won't let that happen.
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>> charlie: can >> charlie: can you imagine doing anything else now? >> no, i'm happy being at columbia. >> charlie: did the nobel prize change anything? >> it made me a busier man. a more responsible man. but i did not get it in late life. i get it early. so it's not a retirement pension for me, it made me even more ambitious. >> charlie: really? how so? >> i just want to write these five novels i have in mind and i want to write them well. that kind of thing. ñr >> charlie: how many have you written? you have had five novels --ñi >> i wrote eight novels. "museum of innocence" is my eighth novel but i have -- i am planning for another five novels. i hope i can -- >> charlie: another five. >> yes. >> charlie: and you know the essential subject matter. >> yes. >> charlie: essential. >> yes, essential, i definitely know. >> charlie: you have a love on$r books too. >> yes. >> charlie: you collect. >> uh-huh. >> charlie: you know. >> but i'm not a collector. i have 16,000 books in istanbul.
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>> charlie: that's a collector, to me. you don't collect first editions? >> not that kind of thing. in fact, a collector of books is a person who never reads that book. thank god i am reading them. i buy books essentially because in my youth, there were no libraries in istanbul but i wanted to educate myself. i bought a lot of books. i still buy books and send them back to istanbul thinking that turkey -- istanbul is my country because i am still sending my books there. >> charlie: let's talk about turkey today. as you know, i just interviewed the prime minister of turkey and i spoke to you about this -- i don't want toñr know whether yo believe this or not. >> there is the islamic world of 1.5 billion people and turkey between this world and thatçó world could be an important bridge as a democraticñi secula state respecting theñi rule of law. and turkey is the country that
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is best placed to do that. >> charlie: is he right? >> he may be right but then he is a diplomat. he is a politician. >> charlie: so? >> my point is sometimes they say, "mr. pamuk, i am not aspiring to that role," since they ask me this kind of question, is your work a bridge between east and west?" no, no. that is his job. >> charlie: system job is to -- to make the case for turkey to be that bridge. >> yes. he also -- he argues to say in america, in europe, "i can be a good bridge for you," he also arguings to say iran, in middle east, "i can be a good bridge for you to make peace with america," this or that. i think if it works, it's worked. whether it's working or not, that's also problematical. >> charlie: what is the essential conflict in turkey? >> there are two conflicts. one is now -- the conflict between kurdish people --
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kurdish who are demanding more cultural language -- whatever rights, and escalating to political rights and -- >> charlie: the central government. >> the central government who has a fear of that and doesn't know how to deal with it in a more liberal, soft way. that is also the problem is here central traditional governments, hawkish attitude rather than not developing a soft, liberal attitude. that's one problem in turkey. unfortunately would continue to be problem if they tonight know how to approach it in a soft -- if they don't know how to approach it in a soft way. the other is the so-called fight between secularists and so-called islamists. ñi but this is a fight that's been going on in turkey for the last 200 years. it's changing faces, verbs, and this is -- this started as turkey begin to develop its occidentalization,
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westernization project, this problem started. >> charlie: go back to the time of attaturk. is it more secular today or less secular today? >> now, it depends on your understanding of secularism. i think that turkey is definitely a secular country. the fact that there is a party in power with the leaders of that party used to call themselves islamists 10 years ago do not change the picture much. that turks, secularism project worked. what doesn't work is democracy. human rights. free speech. these are the problems -- >> charlie: why doesn't it work? partly it is -- you felt the burden. you felt the sharp edge. >> partly, i really think that it's not because of the political agenda, it's that the
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ruling elite, some parts of the army, bureaucracy is very conservative and very, i would say, authoritarian. >> charlie: fearful of what? >> fearful of -- fearful of, unfortunately, democracy. >> charlie: what do they fear democracy will do? will turn it into a theocracy or something? >> no,çó but they say so, but i don't think -- >> charlie: they don't really fear that, they just use that, they say "the islamists are coming, we've got to stop them"? >> yes, that's the pretext, i think, unfortunately some of it is that turkish bureaucracy. some parts ofhe army have some privileges. they don't want to lose it. >> charlie: worry about that -- >> they are also upset about the negotiating with european union because the consequences of which they may lose some of their privileges. >> charlie: in order to be acceptable to the european union, certain changes will have
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to be made suggesting you have met the standards for -- >> these are things that the old establishment -- some parts of the army, bureaucracy, legal bureaucracy, are resisting. in the end, culturally, i feel close to them because they are more, quote, westernized, but their troubles -- thereby, their authoritarianism, their tolerance, by not addressing the free speech, by not paying respects to, in fact, peoples of turkey's roots -- the problem, another problem of -- eternal problem of turkey is that secularists and -- most of them are nice people -- do not have much respect for democracy, people's worlds, humant( rights >> charlie: is there a political novel in you? >> there is a desire to do it
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but i am holding myself. i already wrote "snow." i don't want to be a controversial writer. i want to write what i plan in these five novels. >> charlie: also, "istanbul," "snow," "the white castle," "the black book," "the new life." thank you for coming. >> thank you very much, charlie. great to see you. >> charlie: walter isaacson was chairman and c.e.o. of cnn and managing editor of "time" magazine. his books about albert einstein and benjamin franklin were best sellers: he brings us a collection of essays. it is called american sketches. great leaders, creative thinkers and heroes of a hurricane.
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i am pleased to have him back at this table. welcome. heroes of a hurricane comes from -- >> new orleans. i grew up in new orleans and i have always been interested in creativity, it's that edgy mix in new orleans you have had for a couple of centuries now that i think makes it a partly creative town and i was worried that after the hurricane it wouldn't come back that way but it has. there are a lot of good people have helped new orleans come back. >> charlie: in the introduction there is a notion from your daughter betsy at harvard university, and she says, and you write about her, you say "my daughter once pointed out obvious that in wrooth about franklin i was writing about an idealized version about myself. what about einstein? that she sd i was writing about my father. a distracted, humanistic engineer. einstein was his hero as my father had been mine. at that point i asked my daughter what she thought i was doing when i wrote about kissinger. that's easy, she said, "you were writing about your dark side." you've got two chapters here,
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right? >> uh-huh. on kissinger? >> charlie: yes. >> you know, kissinger -- kissinger is one of the most brilliant people in understanding balance-of-power diplomacy and one of the things i look at is how being really smart has its limitations sometime and i never thought he had the perfect fingertip feel for america's values that allows you to be open in conducting foreign policy in a diplomacy -- i mean foreign policy in a democracy but i will say that one of the essays in there is a new introduction i did to the biography of him and after the second bush administration i was yearning for a little bit more realism and i thought it would be good to have a little bit more of that kissinger realism back instead of that moral crusading that we found in the bush administration. >> charlie: who are the other creative thinkers? >> i do einstein, of course. and benjamin franklin, my two favorites. >> charlie: we see them on the cover. together. >> and i actually -- walker percy is one you wouldn't recognize -- you would recognize but some of your viewers would
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not in the bottom left but when i was growing up, i was about 12 or 13 years old, we used to go fishing across from new orleans and we wondered what ann's dad did. people called him dr. percy but he didn't practice medicine. we kept saying, "ann, what does your dad do?" she said "he's a writer." after a while when uncle walker came out with "the moviegoer" i realized that being a writer was like being a doctor, fisherman or engineer, something youould be when you grew up so i tried to learn at his feet because he was such an elegant writer with a wonderful sense of humor. >> charlie: creative thinkers include people like bill gates? >> bill gates -- i had a wonderful time when i was editor of time and i tried to get out from behind the desk and tried to do stories on my own, had a wonderful time spending some weeks with him and he's creative but more importantly, he can sort of see where things are going. he understood most fundamental
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of all things which is that moore's law which says that the microchip will double in speed and halve in price every 18 months or so meant that you should build software that tries to drive everything -- that wonderful programs from word to -- you know, spreadsheets. so he took advantage of that. i will say, however, that the truly creative person in that field is steve jobs. he keeps reinventing industry after industry by imagining things other people don't imagine. so i think steve jobs happens to be a little bit more imaginative than anybody else in the industry. >> charlie: you wrote a column that's in the upcoming "time" magazine about israel and the united states policy. what's the question there? for you? >> i think that we've sort of squandered this opportunity of having dr. salam fayad as the prime minister of the palestinian author and -- palestinian authority and mahmoud abbas, the two best
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leaders there and we haven't been able to get the peace process moving, one of the things i push for, sort of a benjamin franklin thought which is that if you build up the economy on the west bank and you build up the civil society and the institutions and you create a de facto state with a good economy -- we've had 7% g.d.p. growth rate in the palestinian west bank this year, so you could make a very stable society, and israel once had it as well because it's in israel's interests so you do that instead of bickering over right of return and other theological issues, do a pragmatic, step-by-step approach from the ground up creating a de facto peace. >> charlie: i don't know why israel wouldn't be in support of that. they want to see a very stable, functioning society alongside -- not a society that is in conflict. >> exactly, and ever since you have had the growing palestinian economy you have had a pretty secure west bank. one of the big things that didn't happen this year was when israel invaded gaza, the west
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bank did not erupt. it stayed calm. why? because you had hope. you had good economy. you had great palestinian security. good leadership. let's build on that. let's build up this economy. >> charlie: what makes you think the obama administration is not doing that? >> it sort of is -- senator mitchell understands that and senator mitchell has some good people working for him who are trying to do it but i'm talking about making a big, public push push -- i'm talking about getting all the people who have been on this show wo run cisco and intel and -- you know -- >> charlie: microsoft. >> yeah, microsoft and -- >> charlie: google. >> all of them, google and saying, "come on, put some engineering jobs, put some job centers in the west bank, put some technology training centers" and you could do a public-private partnership, something that condi rice and bush tried to do -- and i think it would be a much more public and visible way to build up the economy there. >> charlie: when you think of yourself, do you think of yourself as a journalist? or a biographer? >> well, you know, one of the other things my daughter once said is when i got asked to do
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something called "the writing life" in "the washington post" she said, "dad, you're not a real writer, you're just a journalist and a biographer," and to that i plead guilty. to that i plead guilty. "time" magazine, the oldçó henr luce "the history of our time through the people that made it" we wanted to write narrative history so i now think of myself more as a narrative biographer, amateur historian. i'm not an academic. >> charlie: it took 11 years. >> he had to learn some physics and math. i wanted to -- math and physics are kind of fun but it takes a while to learn them. >> charlie: does that mean in your current mission to write a biography of louis armstrong you are going to learn some music? >> i play clarinet and i have had played jazz and i used to play with people who played with armstrong. >> charlie: you used to play with people who used to play
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with armstrong? >> george lewis, percy humphrey, down in new leans, i'm talking about sitting at their feet and you would hear the louis armstrong story, i know "westin blues," "rampart street parade" i've got other books i'm juggling because there is so much i would like to do. >> charlie: when you look at greatness, are people who in a time of extraordinary challenge respond with courage as they did in new orleans? >> uh-huh. uh-huh. >> charlie: what's the common link? >> i think the common link is believing you are part of somethg larger than yourselves. what makes somebody run into the burning building, run back while the flood waters are still there, scott cowan who raun to tulane, making sure tulane was an engine that brought the city of new orleans back -- the common link is that they're not just thinking about themselves. secondly, it's an ability to think out of the box -- i mean, einstein was not the most knowledgeable physicist in 1905, couldn'ten get a job at a university but there he is as a patent clerk thinking if you try
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to synchronize clocks, he was looking at patent applications for synchronizing clocks, he said the clocks wouldn't look as synchronous and he came up with the mental leap "time is different depending on your state of motion" those types of imaginative leaps that don't come from rote learning, that to me is the most interesting form of imagination." >> charlie: what was the toughest? >> the clintons, of course, the two of them -- bill clinton we're going to be wrestling with a century from now simply because he had such great promise, there was also a lack of discipline, understanding his administration, whether it was a great presidency or not -- in some ways the answer is yes to both -- secondly, ronald reagan -- first person i ever covered for "time" magazine. there are a lot of chapters in there about reagan, and reagan and gorbachev, even his biographer, edmund morris had to throw up his hands and say "i don't know what went on inside
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of his head" but i tried to capture in there at least the bonding he did with gorbachev and that fixed vision, but unlike a lot of people with a fixed vision he was able to compromise. he did what benjamin franklin said which was hold true to your principles but try to find common ground. whether it was with gorbachev or tip o'neill, ronald reagan had an optimism that a4r50ud him to work together but i still find him a bit of an emig na. >> charlie: we talk at this table in thinking about this conversation are the connected tissue of who people are and what they do. witness this. herald edmond who was here the other nit. >> gave me my first job. >> charlie: gave you your first job at "the sunday times" as a rhodes scholar or write afterwards? >> i would never gotten the rhodes scholar unless he got me a job. they like bylines in british newspapers. they think you're cool. that's the only reason i got the scholarship. >> charlie: kena letter was here the other night talking about steve jobs as the ultimate creative force. >> absolutely.
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that's what i said. i think steve jobs, if you look at first creating the great personal computer, then the macintosh, then the ipod, transforming the music industry, then the iphone which takes your cell phone and makes it into something totally different and i hope -- i surely hope that someday there will be an itab so people will get writing and journalism and video and your shows and pay 99 cents for them and will get back to the notion that you should -- it's easy to pay for content. >> charlie: you should pay for content. >> you should pay for content. otherwise you're never going to get people like you and me producing the content. >> charlie: walter isaacson, thank you for joining us. see you next time. captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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